The European Commission published its new 'SME Strategy for a sustainable and digital Europe', targeting the 25 million European SMEs, which are deeply woven into the fabric of Europe, and provide 2 out of 3 jobs while contributing to 50% of the EU’s GDP.
Although it fails to note the role of Smart Specialisation Strategies to support the coordination of many R&I initiatives, the strategy recognises the need to increase the participation of SMEs in local innovation ecosystems: the regional innovation scheme is mentioned as a dedicated outreach instrument to reinforce ecosystems at the local level.
The strategy proposes a set of key actions for each of the three pillars:
- Capacity-building and support for the transition to sustainability and digitalisation;
- Reducing the regulatory burden and improving market access;
- Improving access to financing.
We wish to point to some of the relevant key actions from the regional perspective:
- Capacity-building and support for the transition to sustainability and digitalisation
- In support of capacity building, regions will be encouraged to make use of the future European Social Fund Plus and of the new possibilities to invest European Regional Development Funds in developing skills for smart specialisation, industrial transition and entrepreneurship.
- Moreover, the Digital Innovation Hubs embedded in local and regional innovation ecosystems will advise SMEs on how to integrate digital innovations into their products, business models and processes.
- Reducing the regulatory burden and improving market access
- To enforce the single market and remove administrative barriers, partnerships among border regions to enhance cooperation will be encouraged, fostering joint improvements, alignments or coordination of the rules and procedures on cross-border provision of services, for example.
- With subnational governments accounting for more than 50% of public procurement (OECD), these are encouraged to use the flexibility offered by the EU’s new procurement framework to enhance opportunities for SMEs, including through the use of digital tools and platforms to step up cross border procurement. Contracting authorities will also be able to benefit from guidance and support by the European Commission.
- Improving access to financing
- An Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) of SMEs will be created, with investments channeled through a new private-public fund under the InvestEU programme.
SMEs are deeply rooted in regional and local ecosystems, where they provide jobs, training, tax revenues and social welfare: for this reason, the European Commission states that 'he strategy’s implementation will be underpinned by a strong partnership of all actors who share responsibility for delivery - EU, national, regional and local authorities, SMEs and investors. It will involve regular political stocktaking of progress, measurement and monitoring'. The mandate of the SME Envoys network will be renewed, and its role will be reinforced to include the interaction with regional bodies and authorities.
The Innovation & Investment Working Group will be following the implementation of the SME Strategy, and is open to input from the participating members.
The entire new SME strategy can be accessed here.